The question of how the Irish elite avoided being overthrown, if not publicly hanged, in the aftermath of the Great Recession must surreptitiously linger in the minds of those in the corridors of power to this day.
Despite the recent thumping electoral victory of establishment projects for abortion liberalisation and same-sex marriage, it is wilfully forgotten that the 26-county state tethered on collapse in the aftermath of the economic crash of 2008.
Twenty years of casino capitalism and its supporting ideological superstructure were de facto discredited thanks to national bankruptcy and the humiliating vista of the Troika camped in Merrion Square dictating terms to the battered Republic.
For all the superficial glam of the Celtic Tiger, another generation of Irish people opted for emigration, with many rural parishes depopulated to the point of non-existence. Notions of an Ireland of ever expanding prosperity so long as we humbly submit to a mixture of social and economic liberalisation should have been questioned if not jettisoned at this moment in history.
The naïve Europhilia of the general Irish public should have been consigned to the dustbin of history at the actions of ECB strong-arming the Irish state into accepting unguaranteed banking debt.
Instead, ten years on liberalism remains more entrenched than ever as Ireland remains an oasis of liberal calm amid populist ascendancies across the West. The recession period, for all its turmoil, failed to produce a single personality or school of thought capable of galvanising the Irish public.
While Ireland was the home of modern populism in the form of Daniel O’Connell and Michael Davitt, their descendants fell silent as Anglo-Irish Bank went into insolvency. The water charge protests of 2015 marked a potential game changer but disappeared almost as soon as they emerged once their initial demands were met.
The radical Left, while prominent at a street level, did not make any sort of major impact. Some might say energy was wasted on account of the Labour Party aligning with Fine Gael in coalition, but considering that the Left’s long awaited ‘crisis of capitalism’ came and went without any leftist surge begs more questions.
Irish republicanism, the perennial bed bug of the Free State, having long since disarmed equally did not resonate – whether it be in the form of the reformist and disarmed Sinn Féin or the hodgepodge of dissident groups.
While the seeds for Trump and Brexit were sown in this period, not even a semblance of this was found on the political right in Ireland. Outside of a vague and undefined form of populism found in strands of the water protest movement, nothing significant evolved on the Right-wing side of politics during the period. Despite being initially promising, the market-orientated Renua failed to ignite electorally and is currently on a stay of execution before state funding runs out.
Explanations for inaction on part of the Irish are abounding. Emigration siphoning off a generation who otherwise would have stayed and protested being a major factor. The lack of a political street culture akin to what is found in Italy or Greece also. Maybe the proportional representation system leading to too much political fragmentation and the continued durability of centrist civil war parties could be a culprit as well.
All these are perhaps decent explanations, but fail to take into account how the Irish mindset was morphed and tamed under the previous 20 years of liberalisation.
The Disarming of the Irish Psyche:
It would seem that rather than liberate the Irish from the dead hand of tradition, liberalism from the 1990s onwards enslaved the Irish both mentally and economically to forms of control as authoritarian as the Catholic state that preceded it.
The type of Silicon Valley liberalism that we have, now buttressed by NGOs promulgating their post-religious morality, is merely a legitimising device for these corporations. Furthermore this atomised individualistic Ireland offers no real resistance to this state of affairs.
The Marxist theory that political structures are moulded by the economic forces underneath is inaccurate but does not mean it is entirely without its merit. In light of this one can rationalise the liberal reforms in Ireland since the 1990s as being a by-product of the influx of corporations into Ireland reshaping the country in their image and for their own ends.
In order to be truly radical, those on the right must challenge the power of these corporations instead of believing in abstract fantasies around the goodness of the market.
The Irish intelligentsia the likes of Frank McCourt and John McGahern, while spending the past half century deconstructing and harpooning the old Ireland for its hypocrisies, have left a void into which only the market and the values of the market dominate.
In this they are complicit in the general complacency within Irish life. Intellectuals may have despised national shibboleths around nationalism and religiosity but these very same concepts were able to dispatch a much stronger British Empire a few decades prior.
The laying low of the Catholic Church following their abuses and ensuing scandals is perhaps the greatest elephant in the room regarding the change which has swept across Ireland the past twenty years. Collapse in personal faith is a tremendous thing, and one which arguably has been a defining factor in the evolution of Western Civilisation over the past 200 years.
Ireland undergoing such a rapid and acrimonious collapse in public religiosity has had an incalculable effect on us as a nation. The rules and rituals of Catholicism were simply replaced by those of the liberal state almost overnight.
Even the Northern Ireland Peace Process, for all its merits, did much to induce the ‘end of history’ hyper-liberalism we witness today by setting us on a path of post-nationalism where identity lost its value within a liberal political framework.
In short, the Ireland which many of use matured into as the recession occurred was one where the belief systems of our parents and grandparents had already met their demise; leaving a vacuum which both prevented any form of reaction against globalism during the recession and which was replaced with a generic form of international liberalism that removed any traces of the old Ireland.
The task of rehabilitating any form of belief capable of combating liberalism is an immense challenge for conservatives and nationalists today. Edmund Burke was correct in defending tradition against revolution but has very little to offer in a world where tradition is already overthrown and discredited.
Creating a Right-Wing Nucleus:
In Ireland, the greatest task facing conservatives is to define what it is about. Any future Right-wing venture will live and die by the answer to this question. Anglosphere conservatism is defined by a desire for small government and the free market while on the Continent it is more interventionist.
In the aftermath of political Catholicism and with the lingering national question, conservatism remains rather undefined in Ireland. Whether or not conservatism should pursue the potentially thankless task of aligning with an increasingly hopeless Catholic Church is one matter. Catholicism has many flaws, but it has an established philosophical framework which could potentially combat liberalism in Ireland given the right conditions and leadership.
One suggestion going forward for the right in Ireland is to become more counter-cultural. In the past conservatism in Ireland was defined by an aura of uncultivated middle class religiosity, if we are to be honest about it.
If the recent abortion referendum proves anything, it is that conservatism in Ireland is a minority sport – especially for the under 25s. We should make use of this mantle for the time being, asserting ourselves intellectually and culturally, while conceding that there is very little hope of garnering a working majority at present.
In the decades past liberals and the Left positioned themselves in a manner from which they could sweep aside the old order almost overnight. Conservatives in the Ireland of 2018 should take a leaf from their book whenever possible.
We are a literary nation. Our tradition is oral and imaginative; we like to talk, a nation of talkers if you will. Poets, playwrights, artists, actors but little in the philosophical tradition. We have no journals of or for ideas alone. He or she is a ‘great fellow’ when they succeed in putting words on it but scorned if seen to take ideas too seriously. A lot of our religious faith was in the realm of superstition and the imagination, which when the cold winds came, were blown out to sea: the centre could not hold (apologies to WB Yeats).
I liked your article. Thank you.